a 2009 Mariners Preview: 2009 Seattle Mariners Baseball Preview
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2009 SEATTLE MARINERS PREVIEW

The Mariners struggled to the second worst record in the major leagues last season, finishing with an awful 61-101 finish. The Mariners’ biggest acquisition during the 2009 offseason was ace pitcher Erik Bedard (for whom they traded 5 players!) from the Orioles. However, Bedard couldn’t make it halfway through the season due to various injuries and was lost for the season in June. The Mariners lost a lot of other pitchers during the year as well, including star closer JJ Putz. The Mariners completed the losing formula by struggling to score runs and major money star Richie Sexson was cut at midseason thanks to a batting average hovering below the Mendoza line. In short, the Mariners couldn’t hit and couldn’t pitch in 2009.

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However, things are looking up in 2009. The Mariners had a lot of young talent and upgraded even further with some offseason moves, giving them a young and healthy roster to start the season anew. Remember, the Mariners were considered a contender in the AL West at the start of last season, so a major turnaround isn’t impossible in Seattle.

 

STARTING PITCHING

The Mariners feature perhaps the most talented young pitcher in all of baseball in star righty Felix Hernandez, who went 9-11 last season with a 3.45 ERA in 31 starts. Hernandez is an exceptional pitcher who will only continue to improve and is a legitimate ace. Joining him atop the rotation is newly healthy lefty Erik Bedard. Bedard struggled with injuries last year but still managed to go 6-4 with a 3.67 ERA despite not being close to 100%. You will struggle to find a much better 1-2 punch at the top of any rotation in baseball when both are healthy.

After the two aces, things get more confusing. The other three spots are up for grabs among five players: Lefties Jarrod Washburn (5-14, 4.69 ERA in 2009) and Ryan Howland-Smith (5-3, 3.42 ERA in 12 second half starts) and righties Aaron Heilman (who was acquired from the Mets after leading the majors in relief appearances the past two years), Carlos Silva (4-15, 6.46) and Brandon Morrow (3-4, 3.34). If Heilman can prove effective in a starting role, he could help solidify the rotation. Bettor’s odds, however, seem to leave Silva and Heilman out in favor of the crafty veteran Washburn and the two young star prospects.



BULLPEN

Seattle finds themselves in quite a hole in the bullpen after dealing star closer JJ Putz to the Mets during the offseason. Possible options to replace Putz include former Blue Jays closer Miguel Batista, who has been a starter the past three seasons (though his 6.26 ERA last season is unacceptable for a closer), and Morrow, who had 10 saves last season while Putz was down with an injury. Heilman is also an option should he prove ineffective in Spring Training as a starter. However, even if Heilman ends up playing a prominent role in the later innings, the Mariners have a surplus of young pitching ticketed for the bullpen and a shortage of proven talent. That doesn’t bode well.

INFIELD

The Mariners boast a fairly decent infield. Up the middle, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt (.279 AVG, 7 HR, 51 RBI, .300 OBP in 2009) and second baseman Jose Lopez (.297, 17 HR, 89 RBI, .322 OBP) are entrenched in their starting roles and are a solid tandem. The catcher position will be manned by a platoon of veteran Kenji Johjima and prospect Jeff Clement. Both batted .227 last fall and the Mariners may want to give Clement more at bats to enhance his development. The corner infield positions are more interesting. At third base, Adrian Beltre has a massive contract and is moderately productive (.266, 25 HR, 77 RBI, .327 OBP) but 22 year old star prospect and native son Matt Tuiasasopo could push heavily for playing time. Meanwhile, first shot at first base will likely go to prospect Bryan LaHair, who was moderately successful during a second half call up last fall. Expect DH Russell Branyan to serve as LaHair’s backup. Overall, the Mariners are fairly solid in the infield but only Anaheim boasts a less intimidating infield at the plate in the AL West.

 

OUTFIELD

The Mariners unfortunately don’t have the pop in their outfield to make up for the infield’s lack of power. The clear star of this group is right fielder Ichiro Suzuki (.310, 6 HR, 42 RBI, .361 OBP, 43 Steals) but even he is getting up there in years. Still, expect him to continue to be one of the game’s most dangerous leadoff hitters. In centerfield, expect newly-acquired Franklin Gutierrez (also part of the Putz trade) to take over. Gutierrez (.248, 8 HR, 41 RBI, .307 OBP with Cleveland in 2009) is a fairly highly regarded player who is believed by Mariners management to be ready to come into his own. The left field position is up for grabs between Endy Chavez (yet another Putz trade acquisition) and star prospect Wladimir Balentien, who hit 7 home runs in limited duty last fall. Expect both players to get a lot of at-bats this season. However, even if Betancourt takes another step forward this is the weakest outfield in the division and won’t provide Seattle with a ton of run production.

 

 

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OUTLOOK

The Mariners, on paper, are a much better team than the 101 loss edition from a year ago. That said, they’re still a ways away from contention. After their pair of aces atop the rotation, their other starters are either past their prime or very inexperienced. Furthermore, the bullpen is a gaping hole. If you don’t have great pitching then you had better have a strong offense, but Seattle is definitely in trouble in that regard as well. Their offense should be more productive than last year’s ineffective group but there isn’t one player in the lineup outside of perhaps Beltre who really strikes much fear into pitchers. Ichiro will definitely produce his share of runs with his ability to get on base and move around the infield, but it probably won’t be enough to keep Seattle in the race.

Overall, Seattle has a very bright future ahead in the next few years. However, expect their young pitching to have some serious growing pains and their young bats will need time to develop. The 2009 Seattle Mariners will need some luck to win more than 75 games this fall and will finish in the AL West basement for the second consecutive season. Any win total over 71 (a ten game improvement from last season) should be considered a successful year.

 

 

By Matt Baxendell
MLBcenter.com Guest Writer


> View all of the 2009 MLB team previews from Pro Baseball Fans

 

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